WWE's diversity a proud legacy of African-American legend Mark Henry

Mark Henry, WWE Hall of Famer.
Mark Henry, WWE Hall of Famer. Photo credit: Getty

Former WWE superstar Mark Henry is incredibly proud to have his name attached to a company that embraces diversity.

Once regarded as the legitimate world's strongest man, Henry's 21-year in-ring career has helped pave the way for fellow African-American sports entertainers.

The two-time US Olympic weightlifter has a long list of accolades in the WWE, after transitioning to pro wrestling in 1996. 

The 48-year-old is a two-time world champion, main-evented WrestleMania against legendary Mark 'The Undertaker' Calaway and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017. 

But Henry would rather champion his employer's attitude towards culture, race, sexuality and gender than his own achievements. 

Speaking to Newshub, Henry pinpointed WWE's international appeal and multicultural talent roster as groundbreaking. 

"WWE is brilliant at breaking down those cultural barriers and embracing diversity," Henry said. 

"Be it African-American, Asian, Middle Eastern, the UK or India - wherever -  the list is endless of the places WWE goes and is seen.

"That makes me very proud to be a part of an organisation that encourages diversity and delivers it in spades on a weekly basis."

Henry regards April's WrestleMania event in New Jersey as a defining moment in the future of pro wrestling. 

African-American star Kofi Kingston was crowned WWE champion - the most prestigious title in sports entertainment - after a decade-long career, while the main event featured women for the first time in 35 WrestleMania events.

Former UFC champion Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch thrilled more than 82,000 fans at MetLife Stadium - the culmination of a near year-long storyline between the three woman.

Henry admits to being close to tears backstage that night.

"I helped pave that path and I walked it a little bit, but Kofi winning the WWE title on the grandest stage of our business was huge for African-American pro wrestlers," he told Newshub.

"Kofi took that brass ring and smashed through the ceiling. That night in New Jersey was one of the greatest things to have ever happened in pro wrestling. 

Kofi Kingston celebrates at WrestleMania.
Kofi Kingston celebrates at WrestleMania. Photo credit: WWE.com

"At the same time, you have a black man who has spent more than a decade working towards reaching the top of this business, you also have these three women, who have come from three very different walks of life, main-eventing WrestleMania.

"It told little girls all around the world that it's not a man's world, wrestling is not a man's business and if you want to be a champion, if you want to be the top star, you can. 

"WrestleMania told that story - both for people of color and for women. It was  a monumental turning point for our sport."

A recent business trip downunder brought back pleasant memories for Henry.

Visiting Australia on a whirlwind promotional tour before WWE's three events in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Henry recalled one of the most memorable nights of his long career - at Wellington's Westpac Stadium in 2006. 

"That is one of my favourite shows of my career," Henry told Newshub. "We couldn't believe how loud the arena was.

"The fans are fanatical - right up there with the hotbeds of the US, like New York, Philadelphia or Houston." 

"They love their pro wrestling downunder and it was a great experience to perform in front of a passionate fanbase back then."

But the night that sticks out most in 21-years? Facing 'The Undertaker' at WrestleMania 22 in Chicago - just four weeks after his appearance in Wellington.

"That was my favourite match ever," Henry said. "Even though I lost, I got to share the ring with the guy, who - in my opinion - is the greatest of all time.

"I got to share the ring with him at the biggest event of the year.

"I feel like I won actually, because all the eyes of the wrestling world were on that match and were on me - that match made the next 10 years of my career.

"It legitimised me as a genuine main-event player in the WWE Universe. 

"WrestleMania 22, against 'The Undertaker' in a main-event match was definitely the moment of my career - it doesn't get any higher than that."

His final in-ring appearance was in 2017 in Saudi Arabia at The Greatest Royal Rumble and Henry confirmed to Newshub that WWE fans wouldn't see him in action again.

The proud Texan is now focused on helping WWE's young talent, while also diving into the world of the media. 

"I'm really enjoying being part of your world, with this podcasting stuff and a bit of reporting. I have zero desire to ever wrestle again.

"I have done everything there is to do in this business and for now, it's about making sure that the future of this business has my fingerprints on it.

"When I'm long removed from this earth, I want people to know I had an influence on the business and broke down some walls."